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June 5, 2012
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Downtown Belfast is a frenzy of women in long skirts and men in their hiking boots scurrying past one another to be the first to get their boat in the water. I walk up and down the boulevard taking in the vibe of the town, breathing in the crisp ocean air. I grew up in Belfast; more specifically I grew up on my best friend’s farm. We would spend every day of the year outside. School was never interesting to me, so every day when we were released we would swing and run around and ride horses, and pick wild berries. Talking about everything and running around like monkeys never got boring. Some days we would work out in the garden. We’d pick the vegetables and collect eggs. So rarely did her mom go to the grocery store, because they had everything they needed. Paul Bernaki owned the farm. I always thought he was a strange man, but I looked up to him at the same time. He built his own house, produced all his own food, he sailed regularly and spent nights on his boat, he had horses, pigs, chickens, cows, and even people to help him with the land. Paul reused everything! His house to the average eye was a pile of crap, but to me it was a treasure chest.

Paul had a very distinguished bathroom system: a bucket with a toilet seat over it in the outskirts of the wood shed. I remember when Lily, my closest friend, moved in she decorated it with banners and curtains to make going to the bathroom more of something you want to do rather than something you have to. Paul’s toilet was my first outhouse experience, and I loved it. I later came to realize that there are far better outhouses out there, cleaner, more organized, and appealing. Since then, regular bathrooms make me nervous. Nobody knows what kinds of germs are seeped deep into the walls. Is that lead paint? Who’s used that toilet? What secrets are hidden beneath the surface? And all that stank confined to one room, it just doesn’t seem right. I also support the politics of outhouses. If you have your own decomposing/sewage system then your waste is confined. You can keep track of how much waste you’re producing, and some people have decomposing systems that feed the garden. In a weird way, you’re much more connected to your land when you use an outhouse.

Winters are the roughest time of year for me, but for Paul it means new activities. One such change is the use of the fireplace. Paul has no electrical heating; he uses purely his woodstove and fireplace. There’s nothing like the smell of burning wood, curled up on the rugged futon with tea, listening to the crackle and pop of warmth. In the fall, Paul would cut down a few trees from his woods in the back and chop it so he was all ready for the winter. I remember one year when I was helping him stack it, we took a little walk deeper into the wood, and he showed me where he makes his syrup. There was a shack with two big bins and one was steaming. This was clearly his biggest batch. The greenhouse provided a plethora of greens to last him the winter, and his meat shed was fully stocked. There’s nothing like fresh, untainted winter vegetables. What else does a person need?

Paul only needs to buy a few basic things, clothes, toiletries, and maybe cheese, but he lives just as comfortably as everyone else and goes to bed every night feeling healthy and accomplished. The fruits and vegetables he eats aren’t coated in pesticides, there strait out of his back yard. The meats he consumes have been raised happily and healthy making the product reliable and safe, which is a stretch from current meat industries. When he composts his scraps, most of them go to the chickens and cycles through, and the rest go back to the gardens to decompose for fresher veggies.

As a species, we’ve forgotten how to provide for ourselves. In a society where were given everything, we’ve forgotten how to build with our own two hands and use our resources to the best of our ability. Why make cheese if you can buy it? Why kill a cow if you can pay someone to do it for you? Why use an outhouse when you can use a warm bathroom? Well I’ll tell you why, people do these things because they prefer to know where their food is coming from and what the sewage system looks like. In this day and age, as the world collapses on itself, we should know how to use our resources sparingly and fully at the same time. It’s easy to get lazy, I know, but there are always things you can do. Reusing is a big step to saving the planet. We create so much waste, what if one day everybody bought their morning coffee and instead of throwing the plastic cup away, they filled it with water throughout the day. First, coffee dehydrates you, so you’ll need easy access to water at some point. And second, that cup is going to end up in an island made of trash. It might go into a whales system and take a year off its life, or it’ll get stuck in some runoff crevice and rot in all its glory, contaminate some insects and so on. We need to be ten times if not one hundred times more aware of what we waste and find some way to reuse. I’m not saying your average Joe needs to go buy a chunk of land, build a house and start a private organic community, but there are certainly things everyone can do. Be aware. Children more than anything should start learning basic survival skills and sustainable living techniques or they won’t have a chance at fixing our battered planet. In thirty years I hope to go back to Belfast and that ocean I know so well. I hope to still be able to smell the organic sea salt and eat the fish for that matter. Fight the cause by not giving in to unnecessary consumption, and you’re already a step in the door.





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